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  • Writer's pictureMarie Bailly

The Big Sur Dilemma: Overlanding vs. Airbnb

We visited Big Sur for the first time Spring'15. We knew it was going to be love at first sight and wanted to stay overnight. The head-scratching moment arrived when we started looking for accommodations.

Big Sur is one of the most stunning places in the world. This rugged coastal area annually receives the same amount of visitors as Yosemite National Park (about 7 million) but has a magnitude less of infrastructure, like restaurants, hotels, restrooms and places to park along the narrow two-lane road. It’s a true national treasure that requires extraordinary measures to protect it from development - the coast remains isolated and largely unpopulated with only 2,000 year-round residents. The majority of the coastal area is owned by government agencies that don’t allow any sort of construction or development - and the interior is protected as well by being a part of the Los Padres National Forest.

Dispersed Camping in Big Sur
Overlanding and dispersed camping in Big Sur

When you’re in Big Sur, there is a sense of possibility and freedom, an open invitation to create your own little world from scratch. Seekers and dreamers from around the world come here to get inspired and recharged.

Living in San Francisco, we also find ourselves frequently escaping to the rugged coast of Big Sur, to see the Milky Way without light pollution and fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

If you’re heading to Big Sur from San Francisco, don’t miss Carmel-by-the-Sea and the 17 Mile Drive, possibly most scenic loop you will ever see. One of the main attractions there is the Lone Cypress, an inspiration for our logo - quite literally, a lonely Cypress tree growing out of the granite rock. From there, the 30 mile drive to Big Sur is just as stunning. If the lack of activities in Big Sur is evident, don’t worry - activities aren’t really needed. You will spend most of your time mesmerized by the horizon and the crashing waves against steep cliffs.

Let’s talk about accommodations around Big Sur, or the lack of. There are a couple of famous hotels like Post Ranch Inn and Ventana Inn, with rooms ranging between $700-$1200/night. Even if you felt like dropping $4,000 for a 4-day stay, there simply isn’t enough rooms .There is only 300 hotel rooms for this 90 mile stretch. You might think Airbnb is a more sound choice, and typically it would be - but there are only a handful of Airbnb listings as well.

In case you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars for a weekend getaway on a hotel room, there is always an option to stay in a campground. Although booking a campground in Big Sur is comparable to running a marathon - exhausting and not that much fun for most people - because the very few existing campgrounds are typically booked up months in advance.

Camp with views like this - for free! Dispersed camping #forthewin

Where does that leave you? Dispersed camping to the rescue. It’s a little known fact but wild camping is allowed anywhere within a boundary of National Forests - we love dispersed camping for the solitude it offers, especially in places like Big Sur. Called by the New York Times, “the greatest meeting of sea and land”, Big Sur offers a unique opportunity to escape from the crowds - but only to the select few who know about wild camping and old forest roads.

Here are 4 reasons to ditch campgrounds and expensive hotels and camp overlanding style in Big Sur for your next vacation:

- Get anywhere - the most exciting part of travelling in the overland vehicle rental is it's 4x4 capability. Off-roading is only fun if you can navigate gravel roads safely. Old forest roads are abundant around Big Sur but you need to know where to go.

- Be one with nature - few things in life beat spending time with your favourite book by the campfire, watching the Milky Way away from all the light pollution and listening to the sounds of nature.

- Plan your itinerary without limitations of campground booking - plan your trip around epic sights you want to see, not campground's availability along the route. Almost every National Park in the US is surrounded by a National Forest where you can camp for free. #winning

- Get away from the tourist traps - if you can’t get off the beaten path, you can’t get away from tourist traps and crowds. Overland travel takes you off the beaten path into secluded places where you can find true solitude.

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